1 Million Crowd Times Square for Annual New Year’s Eve Bash Amid Heavy Security

Vigilant police and excited revelers pack Times Square as the world rings in 2016

A throng of 1 million revelers in Times Square rang in the New Year with raucous cheers and a blizzard of confetti, striking an optimistic, even defiant, tone amid jitters over extremist attacks and heavy security that included 6,000 police officers.

"You haven't lived until you've experienced Times Square on New Year's," said Eric Robertson, 25, of Philadelphia, who kissed his girlfriend as the crowd counted down the seconds to the New Year and the ball dropped at the stroke of midnight.

Partygoers from around the world had waited hours at the famed Manhattan crossroads — some since before dawn — for the countdown. Mayor Bill de Blasio pushed the button to send a 11,875-pound Waterford crystal ball into its minute-long decent.

As the clock struck 12 o'clock, cheers erupted as fireworks shot into the sky and people shared hugs and their first kisses of the year.

An estimated 1 million people were at the celebration, protected by an armada of thousands of police officers — some in civilian clothes, many heavily armed — as well as rigid security screenings.

The Times Square party began with musical acts, including Charlie Puth, Demi Lovato and Carrie Underwood, and ended with fireworks and the descent of a glittering crystal ball from a rooftop flagpole.

"It doesn't matter which country you go to, everybody knows that Times Square on New Year's Eve is absolutely epic," Eva Ta, who was visiting from Canada, said. 

Revelers from all over the world waited patiently for the once-in-a-lifetime experience. One family came all the way from South Africa.

"We wanted to experience the ball dropping, so we're very excited about it," South African reveler Moitheki Hgobani said. 

There was also an excited group of friends who were visiting from France. 

"It's a dream for the French people to make New Year's in New York City," Angelaque Rivearo said. 

People began filling the square long before sundown for the spectacle, which began at 10 p.m. on NBC. Carson Daly emceed the special event. He was joined by No Doubt frontwoman Gwen Stefani and "Watch What Happens Live!" host Andy Cohen.

It is often a frigid wait for performers, but temperatures this year were in the low 40s.

Thousands of police and hundreds of anti-terror unit officers joined partiers as they filled Times Square and surrounding streets on Thursday night. NYPD vehicles patrolled side streets that led to the square as a larger-than-expected crowd turned out to ring in 2016. 

"This is the iconic New Year's celebration for the world," New York Police Department Commissioner William Bratton said. "We have no threats we're aware of directed against this event tonight but nevertheless we still plan for the worst and then expect the best."

Some in the crowd admitted to being nervous to gather in such a famous location in the weeks after the Paris and San Bernardino attacks. 

"I'm sure the NYPD is doing a good job of keeping everyone safe," Robert Yu, a tourist from San Francisco, said. "But there's always that feeling in the back of your head that something's going to happen." 

Ashley Watters, 18, a freshman at Temple University hailing from Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, called the threat of terrorism "the elephant in the room."

"I talked to my dad before I left and said 'I love you and hopefully ISIS doesn't come,'" said Watters. "My dad said, 'Keep your eyes out.' He feels the same way, you can't live in fear. I'm not going to miss out on an opportunity."

The Times Square festivities came as a Rochester man was arrested Thursday for allegedly planning to attack a bar in the city on behalf of the terror group ISIS. 

Two friends who traveled all the way from Mexico to see the ball drop said security was heavy, but that it helped them feel safe. 

"Before getting in here we had two security places, so we feel pretty much secure," one of the Mexican friends, Aurelio Marvan, said. 

This year's festivities were attended by nearly 6,000 NYPD cops in all. They were charged with keeping partygoers safe. Some officers were armed with bomb-sniffing dogs, metal detectors and radiation detectors, while members of the force's elite counterterrorism units were perched on rooftops with long guns and in command centers to monitor cameras in the Crossroads of the World.

Even after a year of headlines over extremist attacks, New York police encouraged partygoers to come to the celebration and "leave the worrying to us."

In addition to the swarms of police on the ground, officers kept watch over the crowd via security cameras, beaming images into a command center at police headquarters. Tactical officers spied from rooftops and a hovering helicopter. Other officers searched bags, at random, in subway stations.

"The events in Paris and also the shooting that happened in California. I understand that there have been a lot of precautions taken," Anne Wu, from San Francisco, said. 

Mayor Bill de Blasio — who pushed the button to send the ball on its minute-long descent at 11:59 p.m. — and his police team have declared the city "the safest place in the world" on New Year's Eve.

Daniel Mishaan, 19, of Guatemala City, Guatemala, said that while the security precautions, which keep partygoers penned in barricaded corrals all night, are a "pain in the neck," being in Times Square at midnight was still a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Just above the police and revelers was one of the priciest parties of the night at R Lounge. 

"Everyone loves Times Square. It's hectic, it's lively, it's adrenalized. And on New Year's Eve, there's no better place to be," R Lounge catering sales executive Carol Pernot said. 

The hardest thing to find in the Times Square crowd on Thursday night? New Yorkers. 

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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